Audi unveils first all-electric Sportback with tech-savvy features illegal in US

Key Points
  • Audi unveiled the all-electric e-tron Sportback with tech-savvy features such as camera-based "side mirrors" and a new dynamic lighting system.
  • However, there's a problem. The systems are illegal in the U.S. under current vehicle safety standards.
  • Audi has been working with "regulators for some time" to change the regulations. 
Audi's e-tron Sportback has high-tech features that are illegal in the US

LOS ANGELES – Audi on Tuesday unveiled the all-electric e-tron Sportback with tech-savvy features such as camera-based "side mirrors" and a new dynamic lighting system.

There's a problem though. The two new technologies are illegal in the U.S. due to what some consider to be outdated safety regulations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The "digital Matrix LED headlights" work much like a projector to provide better, active lighting that can highlight objects in the road, follow lane markers for better sight around corners and even project graphics or animations when entering and exiting the vehicle.

"They're really amazing, not only for safety, but to make your neighbors a bit jealous," said Sebastian Dingert, product manager for the Audi e-tron. The graphics are projected only when the car is parked, however the technology could be used in the future to help alert other drivers to where the vehicle is heading.

The lights are stationary, but essentially project lighting from the system onto the road. Combined with cameras and sensors, the technology is able to identify objects and other potential hazards and illuminate the area.

The system, which utilizes a chip with 1.3 million pixels to project the light, is illegal under current U.S. standards that essentially only allow stagnant low- and high-beam headlights.

Audi said it has been working with "regulators for some time on Matrix LED and laser headlights and will continue to work toward awareness and approval of dynamic lighting."

"The legal situation is a bit strange and it makes it difficult to plan," said Stephan Berlitz, head of lighting innovation at Audi. "The rest of the world will get this system. There's only one country that doesn't have it."

It's not just a problem for Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen Group. Other European automakers such as BMW offer similar technologies as well.

Earlier this year, AAA called for U.S. headlight standards to be updated to allow for dynamic lighting systems. The organization found adaptive driving beam headlights increase roadway lighting by as much as 86% when compared with U.S. low-beam headlights.

Audi unveiled the e-tron Sportback on Tuesday in conjunction with the Los Angeles Auto Show, which attracts media from across the globe.

2020 Audi e-tron Sportback

The company's "virtual" side mirrors, which debuted on the first e-tron model, also are not allowed in the U.S. The system uses small exterior side cameras with images displayed on 7-inch screens on the interior doors of the cabin. The view can be repositioned and moved but, unlike traditional side mirrors, can be zoomed in and out.

Current government regulations specify vehicles need to meet certain standards when it comes to side mirrors, so the camera-based system is illegal.

Aside from the banned tech in the U.S., Audi made several enhancements for the Sportback model compared with the original e-tron, which went on sale earlier this year. Most notably, the vehicle offers additional range thanks to tweaks to the vehicle's battery system and better aerodynamics.

According to Audi, the Sportback is expected to have a slight improvement on the original e-tron's 204 EV range for the U.S. Final specifications will be released closer to the vehicle's domestic launch mid-next year.

The e-tron Sportback is expected to arrive in Europe in March, followed in the U.S. by summer/fall. Starting pricing for the U.S. is expected to be under $80,000 based on European pricing